Wake Up, Mr. West!
Read a book! Read a book!
Read a muhf**kin book!/ Read a book! Read a book! Read a muhf**kin book!/ ... Not a sports page (what), not a magazine (who)/
But a book ni**a, a f**kin book ni**a/
Read A Book, Unthugged Vol. 2, 2007.
I read one-fourth
of the Library of Alexandria/
Master Thesis, Mic Club: The
At a recent signing of his new book,
Thank You and You Are Welcome, Chicago MC Kanye West apparently
said the following: Sometimes people write novels and they just be
so wordy and so self-absorbed. I am not a fan of books. I would never
want a books autograph. I am a proud nonreader of books. I like to
get information from doing stuff like actually talking to people and
living real life.
Of course coming from a teachers
son, and a distinguished one at that, many have taken to underline how
much of a disappointment, to the late Dr. Donda West (R.I.P.), his comments
must be. As they see it, Dr. West, renowned as chairwoman of Chicago
State Universitys English department, had to be a fan and reader
of books. Kanyes critics, therefore, have piled on him, accusing
him of promoting illiteracy among young, adoring fans.
As a voracious reader of books,
I cant agree more that literacy is, indeed, a tool of empowerment,
and anyone who would seek to deny young people this reality deserves
the hottest hotel room in hell. I also believe that a generation so
undereducated (and mis-educated), as this one, should be encouraged,
by all means, to nurture their innate desire for critically reflective
work. This must be the aim of every socially-aware entertainer.
That said, however, it would be disingenuous,
if not dangerous, to simply adopt the opinions of Hip-Hop antagonists
like Stanley Crouch, who
couldnt wait to prosecute
Kanye for floundering in the sea of irresponsibility that allows
grown men and women to never leave the ranch of their adolescence.
Wests statements smacked of mirror-licking narcissism, Crouch
wrote, giving rise to a cultural phenomenon where individual freedom
is mistaken for merely breaking the rules by rebelling against some
version of authority or saying simple-minded and stupid things just
because a mike is pushed in front of ones mouth.
If all this comes simply for suggesting
correctly that many novelists are self-absorbed and verbose, or for
indicating that books arent the only source of intelligence, critics
like Crouch might want to aim their rhetorical water pistols at the
25% population, on a national scale, which
go an entire year without
reading a single book.
Knee-jerk judges are also probably
unenlightened about Loop Dreams, a South Central-based offshoot of The
Kanye West Foundation, which uses Hip-Hop to teach young students the
values of education.
In a recent interview with Essence
talked about the essence
of education, and how his program is meant to cut through the staggeringly
high dropout-rates among inner-city students: I believe that anything
that you have to pay for is a choice, and high school is mandatory to
gain some basic skills. Therefore, its easy for me to build a foundation
that encourages young people to stay in high school. Prior to that,
he questioned the notion that education can be restricted to the walls
of academia: At what point are you really done finishing your education?
This notion that education is universal,
and the learning process perpetual, has certainly found refuge in the
critical work of many progressive scholars like Michel Foucault, Henry
David Thoreau, Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Cornel West, Henry Giroux,
Susan Giroux, and Lenore Daniels. Having a celebrated Hip-Hop artist
reiterate it, and to a younger generation, should earn the applause
of even his toughest critics. But it wont.
In the interview, Kanye West also shot
back at the likes of Stanley Crouch: When people cant understand
someone who might be presenting new ideas and thoughts because it sounds
too different from what they are used to, they see me as an egomaniac,
rather than viewing it as a difference of opinion or way of thinking.
It may not be that they cant
understand, but that they choose not to understand. After
all, ignorance is a passion.
Jacques-Marie-Émile Lacan, the late,
legendary French psychoanalyst, used those terms in describing the passion
of ignorance. He explained ignorance as having a stronger impulse
than even love and hate. In his analysis, it wasnt
just the absence of knowledge, information or awareness, it was a passion
for that absence, a mode of resistance to any medium through which that
absence could be mitigated. Ignorance, he insisted, cuts across the
grain of misrecognition, for misrecognition still embodies an idea of
what is being misrecognized.
In this instance, Lacans theory
couldnt yield more truth. Crouch and his cohorts are not merely missing
the point. They intentionally disregard the core of Kanye Wests antipathy
for books. Beyond being a proud nonreader of books (notice the
emphasis on bookshe might be an avid reader of scholarly
journals, business magazines, online articles, speeches, etc.), he mentioned
sharing no such sentiments for information. This is critical.
I like to get information from
doing stuff like actually talking to people and living real life.
In Peak Learning: How to Create
Your Own Lifelong Education Program for Personal Enjoyment and Professional
Success, Ronald Gross explains how different learning styles can
produce the same result, under variable conditions. He gave an example
of a New York apparel-industry trade Editor, Nicholas Naritz, who discovered
that in trying to learn about French culture, he felt uneasy at the
scraps of knowledge he was accumulating, as he put it, from an
assortment of books he had bought. [Gross, Ronald. Peak Learning: How to
Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1991., p. 83.]
It is unclear whether Nicholas was
a book-lover or not, but he soon discovered that his preferred way
of learning [was to] absorb the spirit of a field by talking with
people in it.
This is what Kanye meant by actually
talking to people and living real life. Living
Nicholas Naritz, through a series of
brain exercises, arrived at that conclusion, which led to discarding
the books and magazines he had picked up to learn about French culture
and, instead, attending events at the Alliance Française. He
later reported: I just picked up what I needed to know, just by osmosis.
[p . 84]
Its unlikely Kanyes critics would
be willing to embrace this unorthodox perspective. Again: Ignorance.
Is. A. Passion.
The only criticism I find credible,
vis-à-vis such comments, is that it often leads to the perpetuation
of a destructive stereotype that Hip-Hop is anti-intellectual, or that
Black youths, overall, find cerebral activities unappealing. That, I
find troublesome. We saw its manifestation earlier this year in a study conducted by Virgil Griffiths, a PhD student
in California, titled Music That Makes You Dumb, which all but
condemned Hip-Hop as intellectually deficient.
In that case, I agree with author RK
Byers, that those who, like Kanye, defy social order should apply more
delicacy, so as not to lend credence to forces which seek to destroy
this great trans-generational culture. Byers wrote: Of all the criticisms
that hip hop fans are forced to allow about our stars... we check immediately
the clowns that try to tell us that theyre all illiterate. He
Who can forget Ice Cubes
Unlike Iceberg Slim and all of them be/claimin P.I.M.P. nod to the great Black writer Iceberg Slim? Or Tupac claiming Donald Goines to be his father figure? Jay-Z references The Coldest Winter Ever, Monster and a Tree Grows in Brooklyn on his Blueprint 2? release. The best example of rap literary referencing though has to be Commons breath-stopping
If rap was Harlem/Id be James Baldwin.
It is true that Hip-Hop culture has
kept alive the vibrant legacy of intellectualism that was handed down
by older Black Art Movements. Examples of this can be seen with the
exceptional literacy initiative, Hip
(H.E.L.P.)., put forth by Hip-Hop artist Asheru. Traces of Hip-Hops
dedication to scholarly discipline are also surrendered in the works
of legendary South-Bronx MC KRS-One, who, as author of several books,
recently joined forces with PowerHouse Books, to launch a Hip-Hop imprint,
I Am Hip Hop. When reflecting on the Nkiru Center for Education and
Culture, Brooklyns oldest Black bookstore, operated by power duo
Talib Kweli and Mos Def (Black Star), it becomes obvious that Hip-Hop
is not the Sodom and Gomorrah paradise uninformed critics make it out
to be. With the academic accomplishments of pioneers like Roxanne Shanté,
Ph.D., there should be no doubt that Hip-Hop does treasure educational
excellence. And anyone familiar with the highly underrated Jamaica-born
MC Canibus, cannot successfully claim that Hip-Hop and intellectual
curiosity are mutually exclusive.
It is unfortunate that when Kanye West
speaks openly about his decision to drop-out of College, eyebrows are
raised, knuckles get cracked, and critics suddenly develop flaming tongues.
To my knowledge, nobody though it right to protest Talib Kweli, himself
a College drop-out, when he rapped (Over The Counter, Liberation,
2007): I went to college, then I left, thats when I got my education/.
Why? It might be that, deep down, in the inner recesses of our soul,
we find his points valid (more on that next week).
The day education becomes limited to
the information a teacher can pass to a student, such society self-annihilates.
Haters can pile on Kanye all they want (a growing fad), but he didnt
need a book to speak
eloquently in 2005, with
the lucidity of a public intellectual, against the injustices of the
Bush administrations criminal incompetence in the recovery efforts
of Hurricane Katrina; or in his lightning-like remonstration against
the corporate press for the way they portray us in the media.
Without the use of a page filled with words, he successfully reasoned
that the government is set up to help the poor, the black people,
the less well-off, as slow as possible.
If a proud non-reader of books
could articulate, effortlessly, the pain and anguish millions of people
felt, books might not be as helpful as largely suggested. Even though
I hope young students are encouraged to seek out the treasures of life
hidden in great texts of Literature, Philosophy, Astronomy, Education,
Religion, Morality, and History, I cant possibly insist that they
all do, knowing that learning patterns differ, therefore determining
individual interests in book-reading.
Mr. West is being ridiculed,
but he has consistently put great effort into securing a quality educational
future for poverty-stricken kids; and, in truth, thats more than
many other Hip-Hop artists, even his critics, can lay claim to.
Tolu Olorunda is a cultural critic and a Columnist for BlackCommentator.com. He can be reached at Tolu.Olorunda@gmail.com.
The views expressed inside this editorial aren't necessarily the views of AllHipHop.com or its employees.